A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) - Sarah MacLean Page 0,1
he hadn’t expected to meet one. Perhaps he’d misunderstood in the confusion of rolling Rs and missing syllables. “I beg your pardon.”
The man studied him for a long moment. “Mine or the keep’s?”
“For . . .” Bernard wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t apologizing to the castle, was he? He tilted his head. “Is Mr. Stuart here?”
The enormous man rocked back on his heels, and Bernard had the distinct impression that his obvious discomfort was pleasing to the great brute. As though he shouldn’t be the one who was uncomfortable, what with traipsing around the castle half nude. “Aye.”
“I’ve been waiting nearly an hour for him.”
The dogs sensed his irritation and stood, clearly offended by it. Bernard swallowed.
“Angus. Hardy.” Instantly, they retreated to their master’s side.
And it was then that Bernard knew. He looked to the half-naked man across the entryway and said, “You are he.”
“Aye, but we still have nae established who you are.”
“Alec!” A young woman’s voice echoed through the castle. “There’s a man here. Says he’s a solicitor from London!”
The new Duke of Warnick didn’t look away from Bernard as he raised his voice in reply. “He also says he’s been waiting for me for an hour.”
“Seemed nothing good could come of a fancy London solicitor,” the voice sang down. “Why bother you while you were having a spar?”
“Why, indeed,” the Scot replied. “Apologies. My sister does nae care for the English.”
Bernard nodded. “Is there a place we might speak more privately?”
“As I care even less for the English than my sister does,” the duke said, “we needn’t stand on ceremony. You are welcome to state your purpose here and now. And then you may leave.”
Bernard imagined the man’s view of England would change quite a bit once he discovered he’d become a peer of the realm. An exceedingly wealthy one. “Of course. It’s my very great pleasure to tell you that, as of twelve days ago, you are the Duke of Warnick.”
Throughout his career, Bernard had witnessed all manner of response to the reality of inheritance. He’d stood by in the face of devastation of those who had lost beloved fathers, and recognized the eagerness on the face of those with not-so-beloved sires. He’d witnessed the shock of distant inheritors, and the joy of those whose fortunes had changed in the blink of an eye. And, on the least pleasurable of his days, he’d witnessed the devastating burden of inheritance—when a newly minted aristocrat discovered that his title had come with nothing but incapacitating debt.
But in the more than twenty years that he had served the upper echelons of the aristocracy, Bernard had never once met with apathy.
Until now, when the Scotsman he’d crossed a country to find calmly said, “Nae,” turned on his heel, and made for the exit, dogs on his heels.
Settlesworth sputtered his confusion. “Your . . . Your Grace?”
A long bout of laughter came at the honorific. “I’ve no interest in an English title. And I certainly have no interest in being anyone’s grace.”
With that, the twenty-first Duke of Warnick, last of a venerable line and rich as a king, disappeared.
Bernard waited another hour in the stone keep and a full three days at the only inn in the nearby town, but the duke had no interest in speaking with him again.
And so it was that for the next five years, the duke rarely showed face in London and, when he did, he eschewed all things aristocratic. Within months, London society had discerned his disdain and decided that it was they, in fact, who disdained him, and not the other way around.
The Diluted Duke, they contended, was worth neither time, nor energy. After all, seventeenth in line for a dukedom was virtually no duke at all.
Such a view suited Alec Stuart, proud Scotsman, more than well, and he resumed his life without a second thought for the trappings of his title. As he was no monster, he managed his now vast estates with meticulous care, ensuring that those who relied upon Warnick lands were well and prosperous, but he avoided London, believing that as long as England ignored him, he could ignore England.
And England did ignore him, right up until it didn’t.
Right up until a missive arrived, revealing that alongside the estates and servants and paintings and carpets he had inherited, alongside the title he had no interest in using, the Duke of Warnick had inherited something else entirely.
LOVELY LILY TURNED MISS MUSE!
Royal Academy Exhibition
Somerset House, London